Holy balls! Some librarians are avoiding a Newbery Award winner

And that’s just nuts (sorry). In today’s NY Times: With One Word, Children’s Book Sets Off Uproar:

The word “scrotum” does not often appear in polite conversation. Or children’s literature, for that matter.

Yet there it is on the first page of “The Higher Power of Lucky,” by Susan Patron, this year’s winner of the Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s literature. The book’s heroine, a scrappy 10-year-old orphan named Lucky Trimble, hears the word through a hole in a wall when another character says he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.

“Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much,” the book continues. “It sounded medical and secret, but also important.”

The inclusion of the word has shocked some school librarians, who have pledged to ban the book from elementary schools, and reopened the debate over what constitutes acceptable content in children’s books.

lucky_cover.jpgI checked the Northfield Public Library online database and the book, classified as Juvenile Fiction, is on order. Thank you, Lynne Young and staff. You can also order the book here from River City Books, downtown Northfield.

Anyone know if the other schools in town plan to order it or ban it?

When my boys were little, we regularly did this routine: “Where’s your nose? Where’s your knee? Where’s your penis? Where’s your belly button? Where’s your ear? Where’s your scrotum? Where’s your ankle?” There all just body parts, folks. Nothing to fear.

And if there are any kids out there reading this and want to know more, check the Wikipedia entry for the word scrotum.

If you’re a librarian and a kid comes up to you and says, “What’s a scrotum?”, what do you say? “Ask your father”? “Let’s look it up together over here”?


  1. Nick Benson said:

    Griff, do you have any thoughts regarding the subtle differences between a true scrotum and a false scrotum?

    February 18, 2007
  2. Bruce Morlan said:

    Griff, you wrote

    When my boys were little, we regularly did this routine: “Where’s your nose? Where’s your knee? Where’s your penis? Where’s your belly button? Where’s your ear? Where’s your scrotum? Where’s your ankle?”

    but did you do that drill with the neighbor’s kids? And that’s the subtleness that makes the difference. There are things I taught my kids (how to hunt, for example) that I suspect others would rather I not be teaching their kids.

    Parents have some right to expect that society will refrain from overexposing their kids. At the same time, when that kid reaches some level of school, there should be no expectation that they will be protected from the truth about a lot of things … like that evolution is the best way to understand paleontology, that DNA is the best way to understand evolution, that chemistry is the best way to understand DNA, that physics is the best way to describe chemistry and that mathematics is the best way to describe physics.

    The word that kicked this discussion off, “scrotum”, becomes an important word when one wants to understand the fine art of negotiation, as in “when you’ve got them by the scrotum, their hearts and minds will soon follow.” But does it need to be in a book targeted at kids?

    The use that started this discussion is an example of a gratuitous use of the term, since it does not appear to significantly add to the story being told. Or does it? The use of “scrotum” to make the point that the hero is naive is similar to the scene in “Summer of ’42” when the kids are trying to buy condoms, and when the pharmacist asks them why they want them, they reply that they make really good water balloons. In that movie (targeted at adults), it made good sense, but in a movie targeted at children it would not.

    Our kids are growing up fast enough without the additional coarsening they get from our public institutions. A ten year-old heroine suggests to me that the book is targeted to eight year old girls. Eight year old girls are on the cusp of becoming part of the newest demographic, prostitots. It is astonishing to me that the term “prostitot” is now applied to our children. Sheese, were our folks right when they said that rock and roll would be the end of Western civilization? It sure seems like we are trying to prove them right.

    February 19, 2007
  3. Jerry Bilek said:


    I carry it as well. It is listed under recent Award Winners on my homepage:

    More to the point, Pete Hautman had trouble selling his book Godless. It won the National Book Award in the Young Adult category. The title scared people away. It is one of my favorite books by Pete, but it does not sell well.

    February 19, 2007
  4. kiffi summa said:

    I can’t believe that in this day of using accurate terms to children instead of the old family euphemisms, diferent from family to family and in differing degrees of grossness(except for their familiarity) that anyone is worried or offended by the perceived damage done to their little one by the word scrotum!
    Get real; look at the statistics for STDs in the middle school age group! That’s something to get upset about.
    Jerry is right when he uses Pete Hautman’s book “Godless” as an example. It’s a brilliant piece of writing about teens….alienation, exclusion, fears, changing alliances, and alll that scary stuff, but the title, just that word, “Godless” scares people off.
    Kids are a lot less fragile ,and a lot more sensible, than most people give them credit for.
    If a primary grade teacher needs to use the word penis to a first,second grader, I think they say penis, not “potty-doer” or whatever…….
    Pornography is a “right”; but scrotum is an unexceptable word?

    February 19, 2007
  5. Kiffi,

    Sorry if I was not clear … I have no objection to scrotum, testicles, penisis, livers, or other bodily parts being in children’s books. What I do have is a strong enough sense of empathy that I can understand the position of a young parent who is fighting to keep their even younger children a bit innocent for just a little longer. And I can see their concern, and feel for them, even if I know that my own kids learned the biological terms mighty early precisely because I was not interested in perpetuating the sort of false refinement that led to the term “missionary position” and the phrase “lie back, close your eyes and think of England”. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone, empathy is feeling with someone. I empathisize with them though I do not sympathize with them. As for the word in question, scrotum is a completely acceptable word, but does a children’s book need to use it? In it’s defense, at least the book described a snake bite to the scrotum rather than the usual dog behavior exhibited by all my male dogs w.r.t. their scrotums. And I have a perfect example of a story using the later description in a story that I would read to any of my grandkids. 🙂

    February 19, 2007
  6. kiffi summa said:

    Hey, Bruce, although my comment followed on yours, it was not directed really to you; it was directed to those, including “librarians” mentioned, who are so fearful.
    I certainly agree with wanting our children to not grow up any faster than they need to, and I also agree that I don’t want them “abused” with information they are not ready to handle, at some appropriate level.
    Sometimes the sequence here makes it appear that a comment is directly related to the one proceeding it, when that is not necessarily the case.

    February 20, 2007
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    Jerry, my apologies… I forget that Monkey See Monkey Read carries more than used books. Must be that big sign in your window!

    February 20, 2007
  8. Tracy Davis said:

    Okay, I’m afraid I just can’t resist, because I’ve been searching for a relevant way to display one of the coolest pieces of material culture I’ve come across in a long time.


    This is an Asian decorated water bottle? powder flask? tobacco pouch? which looks like tooled leather, which in fact I suppose it is. But can you guess what part of the camel it was made from? Yep.

    February 20, 2007
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    omigodinheaven, Tracy, that’s fabulous. Where might one purchase such a fine item?

    That reminds of some t-shirts I’ve seen at Rugby games:

    “You have to have leather balls to play rugby”

    “Rugby is a game for men with odd-shaped balls”

    February 20, 2007
  10. Tracy Davis said:

    I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Some of those countries have really cracked down on antiques exports, and my friends and I have no interest in seeing the inside of a Turkish jail.

    Actually I think this piece is from Afghanistan, and they occassionally turn up in militaria auctions.

    Geez. Now I’m acting as though it’s a serious inquiry. I’ll stop now.

    February 20, 2007

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